January - April 1943: Preparing for the Uprising and Building Bunkers
Following the events of January 1943, members of the underground in the ghetto continued their preparations for an armed uprising. The Jewish Fighting Organization's first armed encounters strengthened their standing both among the Jews in the ghetto, and also with the Polish underground movements. However, this experience also exposed the difficulties which now faced the organization, in particular a severe shortage of weapons; most of the money used to buy weapons was forcefully sequestered from the Judenrat and the ghetto residents.
Together with Jurek (Arie Wilner)… Michael Klepfisz smuggled… a first shipment of arms – some ten pistols – that the representatives of the coordination committee had received from the Polish underground. The pistols were packed into small boxes, covered with a layer of nails, and loaded onto a peddler's hand cart, as though they contained ordinary merchandise… Not far from the pickup point a Polish policeman stopped the cart and demanded that the porter show him his license to transport merchandise. A few well placed Zlotys dampened his curiosity and he went on his way.Israel Gutman, Revolt of the Besieged: Mordechai Anielewicz and the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, p. 279
During this period the Jewish Fighting Organization underwent a process of reorganization and consolidation. The ghetto was divided into three main combat zones: The central ghetto was commanded by Israel Kanal from Akiva. Yitzhak-Antek Zuckerman from Dror commanded the industrial area (the Schultz and Toebbens workshops). Not long before the uprising broke out Zuckerman was sent to the Aryan side of Warsaw on an arms buying mission for the Jewish Fighting Organization; he was replaced in command by Eliezer Geller from Gordonia. Marek Edelman, a member of the Bund, commanded the brush workshop area.
Parallel to the reorganization of the Jewish Fighting Organization, the Jewish Military Union, founded by the Revisionist Movement and Beitar, also underwent a process of consolidation. Although founded by a political party, the Jewish Military Union also accepted members who were politically unaffiliated. The Jewish Military Union worked to punish Nazi collaborators, purchase arms, and prepare for the uprising. Over time, the Jewish Fighting Organization and the Jewish Military Union began to coordinate their actions; they shared intelligence, and cooperated in the defense of the ghetto, dividing the territory into coordinated military zones. However, the two organizations were never formally unified. In addition to these two military organizations, the underground branches of political parties, the ghetto was also home to several "wild" groups of armed resistance fighters. Some of these abused the situation in the ghetto to carry out robberies, while others sought to fight the Germans. Some of these groups took part in the uprising.
In the wake of the events of January, the Jews in the ghetto became more resolute in their decision not to obey the German decrees; to resist and go into hiding in order to hinder the deportation operations. For the first time, the underground organizations appeared before the Jewish public as an efficiently organized armed force.
Even prior to January 1943, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto had been preparing hiding places for use during the roundups. The events of January led them to conclude that the shelters had to be fitted to allow extended periods of hiding, and that doing so might in fact save their lives. They knew the Germans would be back for another set of roundups, and decided to act in order to hinder their plans.
The entire population, young and old, were busy creating hiding places, particularly underground. To all intents and purposes the ghetto appeared to be a military camp. In the courtyards one could see Jews carrying sacks of sand, bricks and mortar. Work was carried out day and night. The bakeries, in particular, were heavily frequented, as large quantities of bread were needed to prepare rusks [which could be stored for long periods of time without spoiling]. The women worked ceaselessly, kneading dough, preparing loaves of bread and making noodles. As they worked, carrying the dough to the bakeries, their faces bore an expression of exhilarated tension and an almost religious anxiety; they were preparing for what was to come. No one considered going to Treblinka willingly. These people, survivors of previous deportations, now prepared everything needed to survive in hiding for months.Mordekhai Lanski, Yad Vashem Document Archive, O.33/257, Manuscript, pp. 306-307
Hundreds of bunkers were dug in the central ghetto, fitted with bunks and supplied with food and medicine. Some of the hiding places were even connected to the electricity system and the municipal sewage to enable their use over long periods of time.
Almost every Jew in the area found an "address" for himself and his dear ones in one of the underground shelters. It is no exaggeration to state that the network of cells and tunnels resembled a subterranean Jewish city.Israel Gutman, The Jews of Warsaw 1939-1945, p. 354
The situation was very different for the factory workers, particularly those in the larger workshops such as the Schultz and Toebbens workshops. It was planned that they were about to be deported to camps in the area of Lublin. Some feared these camps would turn out to be death traps. Those who were able escaped to the Aryan side of the city; the rest tried to secure a place for themselves in one of the bunkers. Most accepted the position of the underground organizations, and tried their best to avoid the deportations. The area of the workshops was under tighter German surveillance than the rest of the ghetto which made building bunkers nearly impossible.